Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was criticized Tuesday by a lawmaker from his own Liberal Democratic Party over his long-held goal to privatize the nation’s postal services.

“The idea of opening the (postal services) market to the private sector and offering the services based on the market mechanism principle cannot coexist with providing equal and universal postal services,” Lower House member Yamato Inaba told the House of Representatives panel on posts and telecommunications.

The remarks, representing the voice of LDP lawmakers with vested interests in the postal sector, were made on the first day of full-fledged deliberations on the issue in the Lower House.

The Lower House panel is looking at a package of four government-sponsored bills designed to allow private firms to begin offering mail services and to establish a new public corporation in 2003 to take over the three government-run postal services of mail, postal savings and “kampo” life insurance.

The lawmakers have strongly opposed privatization of postal services, claiming that allowing private firms into the sector will lead to the closure of some post offices in remote areas and will inconvenience the public.

Inaba also said the government “must make sure it will not serve the interests of certain private firms.”

The barb targeted Koizumi, who is said to support future entries into the postal market by certain courier and trucking firms, including Yamato Transport Co.

Yamato Transport, the only entity with a nationwide network in the delivery industry, had expressed keen interest in entering the field, but said in late April it was abandoning the idea because private firms would probably be put under too many business restrictions.

Although the bills do not state whether the planned public postal corporation would eventually be privatized, Koizumi said in the Lower House on May 21 that allowing private firms into the industry would be “a milestone for the eventual privatization” of the three postal services.

The remarks infuriated LDP lawmakers who are against postal privatization.

Posts minister Toranosuke Katayama told the Lower House postal panel Tuesday the “milestone” remarks only represented “the prime minister’s (personal) desire” and did not represent the government’s official stance on the issue.

The future course of the planned new entity “is something the public can decide,” said Katayama, minister of public management, home affairs, posts and telecommunications.

Postal privatization is one of Koizumi’s pet projects. He regards it as a key pillar in his reform program.

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